- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 5, 2010

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A paroled burglar was convicted Tuesday of killing a mother and her two daughters in a 2007 home invasion in an affluent Connecticut town and now could be sentenced to death.

Steven Hayes was convicted of capital felony and three counts of murder by a jury that heard eight days of gruesome testimony about the July 2007 attacks on Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela.

The verdict triggers a second phase of the trial, in which the same jurors will decide if Hayes should be executed or face life in prison. Hayes was convicted of 16 counts and acquitted of a single count — arson.

Hayes’ defense admitted to his involvement in the fatal home invasion but blamed his co-defendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky, for being the aggressor. Mr. Komisarjevsky faces trial next year.

Mr. Komisarjevsky spotted the mother and her two daughters at a supermarket, followed them to their Cheshire home, then returned later with Hayes, authorities say.

The men broke into the Petit house in the New Haven suburb of Cheshire, beat the girl’s father with a baseball bat and forced Hawke-Petit to withdraw money from a bank before raping and strangling her, according to testimony. The men, both paroled burglars who met at a halfway house, tied the girls to their beds, put pillow cases over their heads and poured gas on or around them before setting the house on fire, authorities say.

The girls died of smoke inhalation. Authorities say the men were caught fleeing the scene.

Hayes’ attorneys conceded most of the evidence on the first day and spent much of the trial focusing on Mr. Komisarjevsky’s role. They pointed to graphic photos of Michaela found on Mr. Komisarjevsky’s cell phone, and Hayes’ attorney, Tom Ullmann, said Mr. Komisarjevsky escalated the violence at every critical point, starting with Dr. Petit’s beating.

Prosecutors rejected that argument, saying the two men were equally responsible for the crime.


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